Whatever you think of Barack Obama, if you are concerned about the
danger of war with Iran you have to concede that he did a big service
today for those trying to stop such a war.
The New York Times reports: "Senator Barack Obama says he would
'engage in aggressive personal diplomacy' with Iran if elected
president and would offer economic inducements and a possible promise
not to seek 'regime change' if Iran stopped meddling in Iraq and
cooperated on terrorism and nuclear issues."
There is plenty in this article to cringe at, beginning with the
notion of "Iranian meddling" - a weasel term that includes peaceful
and transparent diplomatic and economic activities along with alleged
support of violence - but note that the term is supplied here by the
New York Times reporters (or their editors) and not Obama.
But let's consider the really encouraging and helpful things Obama said.
1. He says he would engage in "aggressive personal diplomacy" with
Iran. Regardless of how useful you think "aggressive personal
diplomacy" is - and there's plenty of evidence that it has been
tremendously useful in the past - when Sadat went to Israel, for
example, it caused a decisive break in Israeli political consciousness
- it indicates a level of seriousness that is encouraging. It's not
implausible that Barack Obama could be the next President of the
United States. If the next President engaged in "aggressive personal
diplomacy" with Iran he (or she) would have a personal stake in a
successful outcome. That alone would change the dynamics of the
2. He raised the prospect of taking "regime change" off the table.
This would be a decisive and useful break from current U.S. policy.
Regardless of what you think of the current Iranian regime, U.S.
efforts to impose change on it from the outside are harmful. Iran's 70
million citizens are in a much better position to bring about regime
change - if they wish to do so - than we are, and they are far better
off if we stay out of it. Having a policy of "regime change"
undermines serious diplomacy - arguably, a key motivation for many who
support the regime change policy.
3. He asserted that "Iran's [alleged] support for militant groups in
Iraq reflected its anxiety over the Bush administration's policies in
the region, including talk of a possible American military strike on
Iranian nuclear installations." Obama is acknowledging that Iran has
legitimate interests - a key condition for serious diplomacy - and
suggesting that the U.S. should be willing to change its own behavior.
4. Obama made clear he plans to talk to Iran without preconditions.
5. Obama says he is willing to offer economic benefits and security
guarantees. Again, these are indications of serious diplomacy, unlike
the fake diplomacy we have now.
6. Obama linked the ideas of "forging a new relationship with Iran"
with "stabilizing Iraq" and a "speedy timetable for the withdrawal of
American combat troops." This is tremendously important. The obsession
of the neocons with regime change in Iran is killing American soldiers
in Iraq, because it's obstructing diplomacy with Iran that would
facilitate a U.S. withdrawal.
Kudos to Barack Obama today.